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Misomen Ramen Restaurant on Lee Highway Appears Closed

Misomen, a ramen and sushi restaurant on Lee Highway, now seems to have closed its doors.

The eatery only opened at the location at 5731 Lee Highway late last year, when it took the place of Asian Kitchen. Now, its doors are closed and windows covered, with a note covering up the restaurant’s hours of operation.

A call to a number posted on the restaurant’s door was not immediately returned, and Misoramen’s main phone line seems to have been disconnected.

But, according to Yelp commenters, the restaurant has been shuttered for a few weeks now. One first reported that the eatery was closed on Sept. 13, with tables and chairs removed from the space, while another wrote on Sept. 16 that the restaurant seemed to be closed during its normal operating hours and trash littered its floor.

The restaurant is located next to a former car repair center, and the original District Taco location.

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DCA Staging Lot for Rideshare Drivers Prompts Community Outcry Over Traffic Snarls

People living in neighborhoods around Reagan National Airport say a staging lot for Uber and Lyft drivers is snarling traffic in the area, and Arlington officials are taking new steps to work out some sort of fix.

The county is convening a public meeting on the issue Thursday (Sept. 27) after hearing persistent complaints about the lot (located at 2780 Jefferson Davis Highway and adjacent to S. Eads Street and a Holiday Inn hotel) over the last few months.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) started routing rideshare drivers to the lot in April, in order to account for construction as part of the airport’s massive improvement project known as “Project Journey,” and required drivers to wait there until would-be passengers request rides at the airport. Since then, neighbors have grown particularly concerned with the congestion the change has caused on S. Eads Street, with the Arlington Ridge, Aurora Highlands and Crystal City civic associations all mentioning it in recent community newsletters.

“Although there is no objection to the parking lot itself, the single entry/exit on S. Eads Street is causing considerable traffic problems and dangerous driving conditions,” the Crystal City Civic Association wrote in its September newsletter. “Plus, drivers in a hurry are [cutting] through the CVS and McDonald’s parking lots to get to the airport ramp on Route 1.”

The Arlington Ridge Civic Association added that the number of drivers cutting through those lots has “reached epic proportions,” and that “the police are now monitoring both.”

The civic associations noted in their missives that they’re pressing the county to reopen the lot’s access to Route 1, in a bid to ease traffic on S. Eads Street. But VDOT has jurisdiction over Route 1, meaning state officials would have to approve any change to the traffic pattern in the area.

“The county estimates the design work and construction to provide ingress and egress from the staging area onto Route 1 may take up to 14 months to complete and cost upwards of $250,000, which is not currently included in the county’s budget,” the Crystal City Civic Association wrote. “While undertaking this engineering work, the county says it is also exploring interim measures and/or options for phased implementation, which will also require coordination with and actions taken by both VDOT and MWAA.”

To that end, the county says it’s invited officials from both MWAA and VDOT to Thursday’s meeting. That gathering is set to be held at the Aurora Hills Community Center (735 18th Street S.) from 7-8:30 p.m.

Photo 1 via Google Maps

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Healthcare IT Company Cerner Opening Office in Rosslyn

Healthcare technology company Cerner is coming to Rosslyn, renting out space in the massive office building that recently became home to Nestle’s U.S. corporate headquarters.

The Missouri-based company plans to lease out just over 38,075 square feet at 1812 N. Moore Street, according to a release today (Tuesday) from building owner Monday Properties.

Cerner will occupy the entire 14th floor of the building, and part of its 12th floor, in order to house staffers working on the company’s contracts with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense. The company employs about 27,500 people across 35 countries, according to its website.

The move marks another success for Monday Properties in luring tenants to the 537,000-square-foot building, after a rocky few years following its opening in 2013. The developer built the tower “on spec,” without any tenants secured ahead of time, and it sat largely empty for months.

But Nestle’s decision to relocate its American corporate headquarters to the space, followed soon after by Nestle subsidiary Gerber, meant that roughly half of its space was spoken for in the space of of just over a year.

Cerner’s move comes just a day after plans came to light that WeWork plans to open a new coworking space at the CEB Tower (1201 Wilson Blvd), representing yet more good news for Arlington leaders looking to reverse Rosslyn’s rising office vacancy rate.

“We see this deal as further confirmation that Rosslyn has become the place to be for companies at the forefront of innovation, from technology and consumer goods to health care,” Mary-Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, wrote in a statement. “Our proximity to the federal government combined with a highly educated workforce and vibrant urban core provides unique opportunities for corporations like Cerner that are experiencing exciting global growth.”

Photo via Monday Properties

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VDOT Finalizes Plans for W&OD Trail Bridge Over Lee Highway

Transportation planners will soon unveil the final design of a new bike and pedestrian bridge stretching over Lee Highway in East Falls Church.

VDOT plans to show off the finalized schematics for the Washington & Old Dominion Trail bridge at a community meeting next month, capping off a design process that drew plenty of flak from neighbors last year. The new bridge, which is being built as part of widening work on I-66 eastbound in the area, is designed to replace the trail’s current crossing at the highway’s intersection with Fairfax Drive and offer a safer environment for walkers and cyclists.

Officials had initially proposed a design for the bridge that featured a trussed roof and red paint, yet neighbors objected to those features, as well as the bridge’s potential to disrupt long-range plans for the area’s transportation networks.

But VDOT has since tweaked its design to address the most controversial features, proposing a bridge that’s gray in color without a trussed roof, in a bid to address some of those concerns. Even still, some questions about noise walls and public art lingered during a meeting on the project last year.

Planners will look to address those worries and more at an Oct. 11 meeting at Yorktown High School (5200 Yorktown Blvd) from 6:30-8:30 p.m., where they’ll deliver a presentation on “final design plans and aesthetic details.”

If all goes as planned, construction is set to start on the bridge by spring 2019 and run through fall 2020.

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Young Democrats Plan Push to Change APS Sex Education Policies

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) The Arlington Young Democrats are weighing a new push to convince the county school system to change its sex education policies, though state law could limit the scope of their advocacy.

The concern of some of the group’s members is that Arlington Public Schools still includes abstinence as part of its “family life education curriculum,” a focus that researchers believe does little to address teen pregnancy or the spread of sexually transmitted infections. Any eventual lobbying effort could center on urging the School Board and Superintendent Patrick Murphy to do away with any mention of abstinence in APS sex education, and concentrate primarily on contraceptives and sexual health instead.

The specifics of what changes the AYDs may ask for and how they might advocate for them is still unclear, however. Tania Bougebrayel, the group’s president, told ARLnow that “sex education policy is on our agenda of important issues this year” and members are still “gathering information” before launching a formal effort in the coming months.

Yet the group could well run into one important roadblock: the strictures set by state law.

Virginia’s “Standards of Learning” gives school systems some latitude to design their own sex education curricula, but it does come with basic requirements they all must meet — among them is an emphasis on “abstinence education” and “the value of postponing sexual activity.” And as school spokesman Frank Bellavia points out, “APS does not have the ability to change state SOL curriculum that is set by the commonwealth.”

“However, we do broaden the scope to be more open and to teach more comprehensively,” Bellavia said. “For example, when the SOL states, ‘abstaining until marriage,’ our instruction also references ‘mature/committed relationships,’ not just marriage. Families also receive a letter annually in the first day packet and have the ability to ‘opt-out’ of any part of the FLE curriculum.”

However, Graham Weinschenk, a Yorktown High School alum who has worked with the AYDs in the past, believes the school system may have more flexibility than it’s letting on.

He’s tracked the issue of sex education closely since working with local state lawmakers to introduce legislation on the subject, and he points out that the Board agreed to revise its FLE policies just this June. The Board agreed to remove a good many of the details from its old policy in favor of broad guidelines, giving Murphy the chance to create a new “policy implementation plan” and sketch out new specifics in the coming months.

“Arlington is kind of at a pivotal moment, and I think [the AYDs] can do a lot in shaping that policy,” Weinschenk said. “There’s more room to make changes now than there was under the old policy.”

Bellavia said staff are currently working on the policy specifics, and they “don’t have a timeline for when it will be completed.”

But Weinschenk is optimistic about the prospect of committed advocacy making a difference in bringing more “medically accurate sex ed” to Arlington. He fully expects that APS could remove any mention of abstinence from its curriculum as part of the policy revision process, noting that the state standards for sex education “are really just guidelines.”

Such a change would be well worth the effort, in Weinschenk’s mind. He points to research suggesting that even mentioning abstinence in sex education classes “undermines the entire process” by sending mixed messages to students” and can stigmatize students who are having sex.

“I totally understand that it makes complete logical sense to at least mention abstinence, I hear that from parents all the time,” Weinschenk said. “But if you look at the science and believe the science, then we shouldn’t have this in our program.”

That’s part of why Weinschenk worked with lawmakers to introduce bills last year to remove references to abstinence in the state guidelines. But with Republicans controlling both chambers of the General Assembly, that legislation has yet to make it out of committee.

Weinschenk is hopeful that he’ll have more success in next year’s legislative session, especially with Democrats just one seat short of a majority in both chambers, but he believes local action is the surest path toward progress in the near term.

Depending on the exact avenue the AYDs decide to pursue, such an effort could require the backing of the School Board, and there’s no telling how they might lean on the issue. For her part, Board member Barbara Kanninen, the lone member up for re-election this year, said through a spokesman that she supports “the Young Democrats’ advocacy at the state level for factual, inclusive, best practice teaching,” but wouldn’t address efforts at the local level.

Weinschenk acknowledges that these changes can be difficult, even in progressive communities like Arlington, but he expects politicians and parents alike could eventually be convinced.

“This problem seems solvable, so I’m trying to solve it,” Weinschenk said.

Photo via YouTube

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The Right Note: They’re Back

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The County Board swings back into action this Saturday for its first meeting since July. The agenda is full of interesting items.

Last week I discussed the need to move forward on the Virginia Hospital Center expansion plans. The Board will most certainly approve it eventually, so they should avoid the urge to tinker with the plans for another six months (or longer).

The work on providing a new salt dome for winter road treatment is also on the docket. While area residents were not entirely happy with the process, the structure has been found to be unsafe and beyond repair. A change is necessary.

Also on tap is the elimination of the car tax decal. In the words of an iconic ad campaign, “just do it.”

The Board is also considering a plan to regulate dockless bikes and scooters. There is probably little chance a majority of this Board will resist the urge to regulate. So, let’s hope they take a “less is more” approach to the issue. Also on tap is an expansion of the Capital Bikeshare program, which is the government monopoly program in the region. It would be interesting to know if any of the pushback on the dockless program originated from the vendors who operate Bikeshare.

The other county-wide issue on tap is the cost of implementing Medicaid expansion. Initially, Arlington believes it will cost around $250,000 to add six new county staff to handle implementation for 3,000 Arlingtonians projected to join the program. The Commonwealth of Virginia will add $277,000 as well. Not reflected in those costs is a reduction in funding to Community Service Boards which officials in Richmond believe will not need as much funding as Virginians move onto Medicaid. Over the next two years, Arlington will see a cut of $2.2 million in state funds. While many questions remain about the long term impacts of Medicaid expansion, Arlington has little choice but to make these changes.

A final note on how the Board does business. The Board changed its rules for consideration of the “consent agenda.” Those are the items that pass with a single vote of the Board and without further input from the public. The public used to be able to ask for separate consideration of any item, but the new rules place 30 of the 57 consent agenda items off-limits to Arlington residents. The new consent agenda rules mean that no member of the public can ask for the Board to take testimony on Medicaid expansion or on Bikeshare expansion. You can, however, ask that the Board hear separately on the dockless bike and scooter issue or for the car decals. The hospital and salt dome issues are already scheduled for a public hearing.

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School Board Warns of More Budget Challenges Ahead

The School Board is warning of more tough budget times ahead for the county’s school system.

In a memo to Superintendent Patrick Murphy to be discussed at the group’s meeting tonight (Thursday), the Board urges Murphy to be wary of the fact that the county’s planned revenue transfer to Arlington Public Schools “is not sufficient to meet our critical needs” as “cost pressures” for the system only continue to increase.

The school system only narrowly avoided class-size increases as it set its last budget, thanks to the County Board finding some additional money to keep classes at their current levels. But as APS gears up to start the budget process for fiscal year 2020, the Board expects that, as the school system opens five new schools and programs over the next two years, the change will “increase baseline operating costs significantly.”

“We anticipate that, as budget deliberations continue, additional funding for APS’s critical needs will be a top funding priority,” members wrote.

As Murphy works up his new budget, the Board is also directing him to “if possible” avoid additional class size increases, and find funding for other cuts the school system was prepared to make if the county hadn’t come through with the additional revenue last year.

“No new, major initiatives should be presented,” the Board wrote.

The Board expects that its decision this year to cut back on devices offered to second graders will save some money, and it’s also directing Murphy to “explore longer-term strategies for efficiencies, such as collaboration with the county on swimming pools reimbursement and Transportation Demand Management funding.”

County Board members have frequently spoken about their commitment to finding more money for schools, yet the county’s own tight budget picture, brought about by complications stemming from the Metro funding deal and persistently high office vacancy rates, will likely complicate the debate. County Manager Mark Schwartz has repeatedly warned that more tax hikes will likely be on the table in 2020 and beyond.

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Original Bob and Edith’s Diner on Columbia Pike Listed for Sale

The building that’s been home to the original Bob and Edith’s Diner for the last 50 years is now listed for sale.

The real estate and development firm BM Smith is advertising the diner, located at 2310 Columbia Pike, for sale with an asking price of $2.5 million. Yet what that means for the restaurant chain, which operates four locations around Northern Virginia, remains unclear.

An attorney for Greg Bolton, the owner of Bob and Edith’s, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did the listing agent for the property at BM Smith.

The Bolton family opened the chain at the Columbia Pike location back in 1969, though county records show that a company controlled by BM Smith — the owner of a variety of other South Arlington properties — took over ownership of the location in 2015.

The chain opened two new locations that same year, and even acquired Linda’s Cafe along Lee Highway this year with plans to eventually expand there as well.

Jonathan Reed, a local realtor, first drew attention to the Bob and Edith’s listing when he shared BM Smith’s posting on his own website this week. As a longtime Arlington resident, he told ARLnow he was “shocked” to see the space listed on an internal database for realtors, and has even since directed two potential buyers to BM Smith since sharing the post.

Based on Reed’s examination of the listing, he believes Bob and Edith’s has a “four-year term” left on its current lease, and could opt to renew the lease for another term. Accordingly, he isn’t so sure that the building being listed for sale necessarily means the restaurant is on the move, though it certainly could be.

“It doesn’t seem like they’re closing or leaving, it could be that they opted not to buy the place,” Reed said. “Of course, there could be someone that buys it that doesn’t want to continue their lease… but whoever buys it will have to contend with the lease that’s already there.”

Photo via Google Maps

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County Unveils Dockless Vehicle Pilot Program, Plans to Cap Number of Scooters and Bikes in Arlington

(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) Arlington is rolling out its promised pilot program to guide the use of dockless vehicles, clearing the way for more companies to offer electric scooters and bikes in the county.

County officials have been mulling how best to regulate dockless vehicles since Bird started offering its scooters in Arlington this June without any warning to the local government. Now, the County Board is set to approve a program requiring companies to register with the county to avoid similar surprises, while also capping the number of vehicles they can deploy in Arlington.

The nine-month program limits companies to operating a total of 350 vehicles each within county limits. Under its terms, any business looking to deploy dockless scooters or bikes will have to pay the county $8,000 for an operating permit, and would then be able to operate a fleet of 200 vehicles. The companies could then apply to increase the size of the fleet by 50 vehicles each month, up to the 350 cap, so long as it can demonstrate that each vehicle is recording at least six trips per day.

Those strictures are similar to D.C.’s own strategy for managing dockless vehicles, which the District put in place last year and caps companies at 400 vehicles each. Transportation advocates in the region have been especially critical of those limits, with some companies ditching D.C. due to the caps, and county staff noted in a report prepared for the Board that the county’s own Transportation Commission “recommended that the demonstration refrain from capping numbers of devices.”

“This proposal retains what staff considers a reasonable cap, reflecting other community input,” staff wrote. Bird started off its deployment in Arlington with 50 scooters, staff wrote, but the company has declined to release exact numbers on how many vehicles it’s since brought to the county.

Staffers added in the report that county officials consulted with some “vendors” last month to gauge their thoughts on the design of the program. Lime, in particular, has spent months working with local business leaders to ensure a more favorable regulatory environment in the county, while Skip, the third dockless scooter company operating in D.C., has also signaled an interest in expanding to Arlington.

Staff also wrote that they fully expect that this pilot program could encourage the remaining dockless bike companies operating in D.C. — Spin and Jump — to start operating in the county as well.

Additionally, the program clarifies that there is no helmet requirement for scooter riders, the county plans to bar anyone younger than 16 from using the scooters, and that the scooters can’t be used on county sidewalks, without some policy tweaks. The policy also adds that both scooters and electric bikes won’t be permitted on county trails.

“While there is enabling authority for localities to ban electric scooter riding on sidewalks, it does not grant localities authority to affirmatively allow such riding,” staff wrote. “Thus, to enact an ordinance authorizing electric scooter riding on sidewalks would require a legislative change.”

The county is also planning on collecting community feedback on all manner of dockless vehicle issues, and will require the companies themselves to regularly turn over ridership data, which can then be released publicly.

The Board first has to sign off on the policy at its meeting Saturday (Sept. 22). It’s currently slated to be considered as part of its consent agenda, generally reserved for non-controversial items to be approved as a block, though it can be pulled from the consent agenda at the request of Board members.

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Clarendon Day Street Festival Returns Saturday

Clarendon Day, one of Arlington’s oldest and largest street festivals, will return this Saturday (Sept. 22).

The event will dominate the heart of Clarendon’s main strip of businesses from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., offering all manner of exhibits, food, drinks and performers. The Clarendon Alliance, which organizes the event, is expecting as many as 20,000 attendees this year.

The fair will run rain or shine, and offer dozens of vendors, Virginia wine and beer and food booths from restaurants in Clarendon and elsewhere around Arlington, per its website.

Performers at the event’s two stages include:

Main Stage

  • 11 a.m.-12 p.m. Ruepratt
  • 12 p.m.-1 p.m. Soul Stew
  • 1 p.m.-2 p.m. Calista Garcia
  • 2 p.m.-3 p.m. Dave Kline Band
  • 3 p.m.-4 p.m. SubRadio
  • 4 p.m.-5 p.m. Fellowcraft
  • 5 p.m.-6 p.m. Bushmaster featuring Gary Brown

Performers Stage

  • 12 p.m.-12:30 p.m. Adagio Dance Company
  • 1 p.m.-2 p.m. Carley Harvey
  • 2 p.m.-3 p.m. Ballet Nova
  • 3 p.m.-4 p.m. Melissa Elizabeth Wright
  • 4 p.m.-5 p.m. Jaleo Arte Flamenco
  • 4:30 p.m.-5 p.m. O’Neill – James School of Irish Dancing

The Clarendon Day 5K and 10K races, backed by Pacers Running, will also return Saturday. The races are set to begin at 8 a.m.

Arlington police are warning of plenty of road closures associated with the race and the event itself. From 3 a.m. to 7 p.m. the following will be closed:

  • Wilson Boulevard between Washington Boulevard and N. Garfield Street
  • Clarendon Boulevard between Washington Boulevard and N. Garfield Street
  • N. Highland Street between 11th Street N. and N. Hartford Street

And the race will prompt the following closures from around 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.:

  • Wilson Boulevard, between N. Garfield Street and Route 110
  • N. Kent Street, between Wilson Boulevard and 19th Street N.
  • The entirety of Route 110 northbound, from Route 1 to Wilson Boulevard

Organizers recommend biking, walking or using public transit to reach the event to avoid those closures.

File photo

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De Ferranti Pulls in More Cash Than Vihstadt, But Incumbent Maintains Healthy War Chest

Democrat Matt de Ferranti managed to raise more cash over the last two months than independent incumbent John Vihstadt, who he’s challenging for the lone County Board seat on the ballot this fall.

But Vihstadt still has a substantially larger campaign war chest to draw upon, as the race rounds into the home stretch ahead of Nov. 6.

From July 1 through Aug. 31, de Ferranti raised just over $39,900, according to campaign finance documents released today (Wednesday). Vihstadt pulled in about $26,900 over the same time period.

The independent’s largest donation was a $5,000 check from a political action committee representing Arlington’s firefighters’ union, which endorsed Vihstadt in late July. De Ferranti’s biggest contribution was a donation of the same amount from Mark Johnson, a co-founder of the D.C. investment firm Astra Capital Management.

Yet the incumbent, the lone non-Democrat to sit on the Board since 1999, has spent considerably less than de Ferranti, leaving him with a roughly $70,000 advantage in cash on hand. As of Aug. 31, Vihstadt reported having nearly $123,800 in the bank, to the Democrat’s roughly $53,400, and shelled out just under $3,000 compared to de Ferranti’s $19,500 in expenses.

De Ferranti faces a formidable opponent in Vihstadt, who managed to win a pair of sweeping victories over Alan Howze in 2014, but he’s benefitted from the fundraising support of prominent state Democrats like former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring. He’s also set to welcome Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax for a fundraiser later this month.

Even still, Vihstadt looks on pace to out-raise de Ferranti, just as he did Howze — de Ferranti has raised roughly $106,100 since launching his campaign in January, compared to Vihstadt’s nearly $139,000 over the same time period.

However, de Ferranti does stand to benefit from the support of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, which is looking to return the Board to unified Democratic control. The party has only reported contributions through June 30, when it recorded having just over $101,800 in the bank.

Candidates will next deliver more details on their finances on Oct. 15.

Flickr pool photo via wolfkann

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After Community Controversy, Nelly Custis Park Overhaul Set to Kick Off

Work could soon get started on the once-controversial overhaul of Nelly Custis Park in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood.

The County Board is set to approve a $643,000 contract for construction at the park, located at 701 24th Street S., at its meeting this weekend. Changes will include some fixes to the park’s drainage problems, new plantings and fresh playground equipment.

The latter feature attracted the most community scrutiny two years ago, with a group dubbed the “Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks” doing battle with neighbors over the utility of adding more playground space to the park. Opponents argued the playground was unnecessary, as it was the third playground in just over one block, and took up green space at the small park, which is just under one acre in size.

The spat ultimately led to county officials issuing a public apology for their handling of the situation, and the county ultimately convened a neighborhood working group to refine the project’s scope.

The current construction plans call for “a play space designed for ages 5-12 in addition to non-structured casual space” and replacements for “outdated” playground equipment, per a staff report prepared for the Board. The project will be funded as part of the county’s “Neighborhood Conservation” program, a fund set aside for minor neighborhood infrastructure improvements that could see big cuts and other changes in the coming years.

So long as the Board approves the contract Saturday (Sept. 22), the county hopes to begin work on Nelly Custis Park before the year is out and wrap it up by summer 2019.

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Nauck Residents Blast County’s Handling of Four Mile Run Valley Planning, Feel ‘Ignored’ and Excluded

As Arlington officials continue to chart out the future of the Four Mile Run valley, some community leaders in Nauck feel their concerns are being ignored by the county and are demanding a louder voice in the proceedings.

The county’s worked since 2016 to craft new planning documents for the area, primarily located in Nauck but touching Shirlington and other South Arlington neighborhoods as well, in a bid to guide the gradual transformation of the valley’s parks and business district. The County Board passed a “policy framework” to provide a roadmap for that process in May, and is set to sign off on a “parks master plan” for the area at its meeting this weekend.

But even with a slew of community meetings on the subject and a working group dedicated to the valley, some Nauck leaders remain frustrated by how the county’s handled their input. While they have gripes with some policy specifics — the re-design of Jennie Dean Park, in particular — their broader concern is that residents are being left out of the process of determining their own neighborhood’s long-term outlook.

“It is confounding when the community that’s most impacted by the Four Mile Run valley is blocked from county communication,” Robin Stombler, a Nauck resident and vice chair of the Four Mile Run working group, told ARLnow. “There’s been a history of exclusion and marginalization of this community, and the county’s current actions don’t correct that history.”

As Stombler points out, the community’s roots as a historically black neighborhood add an extra level of tension to any discussion of how the county engages with people in Nauck. Even with the Board’s frequent commitments to remedying historic inequities in the community as part of the planning process, some residents can’t help but feel suspicious that Nauck’s past is still influencing its future.

“This community has been ignored repeatedly by the Arlington County Board while the requests and desires of several other, predominantly white, Arlington neighborhoods are being placed ahead of those of the people who live here,” Nauck resident Renee Greenwell wrote in an email. “It takes a lot for a historically marginalized community to speak its mind, [and] for Arlington County leaders and staff to patronize us and ignore our opinions is despicable.”

Arlington officials dispute that they’ve ignored any community involved in the planning, let alone Nauck. For his part, Board member John Vihstadt, the Board’s liaison to the Four Mile Run working group, says he’s done his best to “understand and appreciate the sometimes varied perspectives of all stakeholders in our planning process, especially those from Nauck.”

County parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish also touted the “enormous amount of community outreach” involved in the process, noting that the county has held a total of 65 meetings on the valley as well as creating “an online forum for those who could not attend” those gatherings.

Nauck Civic Association President Portia Clark, however, says the county’s “engagement process was lousy from the beginning.” While she says the county has indeed held plenty of meetings, it’s the quality of those meetings that concern her.

For instance, Clark says she invited parks officials to a civic association meeting last Monday (Sept. 10) to have a broader conversation about the parks master plan. Despite repeated requests, Clark and Stombler both say the county ultimately only sent one representative to the meeting, who couldn’t discuss the plan in the detail they were looking for.

“Where were the other county folks behind the parks plan?” Clark said.

Kalish acknowledges that the county was invited to that gathering, but noted that other officials had just held an “open house” on the parks plan on Sept. 5, calling it “robust and distributive.”

“We heard from a variety of people, including residents from Nauck and the surrounding communities,” Kalish said.

But Clark claims the meeting was sparsely attended, coming so soon after Labor Day, with county officials outnumbering community members by a hefty margin.

“How engaging is that?” Clark said. “We recommended from the beginning that they contact every household… It just went on deaf ears, because they weren’t listening.”

Clark feels that the county instead came into the process with “certain things in mind that they wanted,” and then refused to change based on community input.

Among her biggest concerns are the plans to revamp Jennie Dean Park. Eventually, the county envisions acquiring the WETA building next to the park, relocating a baseball field and adding new tennis courts to the area.

The Board ultimately endorsed a plan to move the field closer to the intersection of 27th Street S. and S. Nelson Street, even though Clark’s civic association and the county’s Park and Recreation Commission backed an option that would’ve left a bit more open space at the front of the park by locating the field elsewhere. But county staff endorsed the former alternative, reasoning it would be easier to build and maintain, and the Board is set to formalize that selection when it votes on the park master plan Saturday (Sept. 22).

To Clark, the dispute represents the perfect example of the county not listening to Nauck’s input, even though the neighborhood hosts the park itself.

“We’re concerned it will be a border to the community, and about the noise levels, what will project out into the neighborhood,” Clark said. “We just have to live with that now.”

Vihstadt noted that “Board members and staff are in continued communication with a variety of communities as we approach our Saturday vote,” and said the county is working to “build as much consensus and mutual understanding as possible” on the plan.

But Stombler is already looking a bit beyond the parks plan to what she thinks the county can take away from this whole dust-up moving forward.

“I think we need an assessment of how this process has proceeded, so future engagements are more collaborative and understanding of the community,” she said.

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Ballston Quarter Delays Opening to Late October

The developer behind Ballston Quarter is now promising a grand opening late next month, a minor departure from the September date originally targeted for the revamped Ballston Common Mall to begin welcoming customers once more.

Forest City is now targeting Oct. 25 for the development to open its doors “barring any unforeseen delays,” Forest City Regional Director of Marketing Jill Fredrick told ARLnow, via a PR rep. The bevy of restaurants and retailers set to call Ballston Quarter home won’t open all at once, but on a “rolling basis” over the next nine months, Fredrick added.

The overhauled mall has been in the works for years now, as Forest City has sought to refresh the aging structure with a mix of retail, office and residential space. But the exact timetable for its completion has been difficult to pin down, with the developer reporting some construction delays to county officials over the past few months.

“You’ve got to look at the magnitude of this project — it only slipped a month,” said Ballston Business Improvement District CEO Tina Leone. “Of course, we would’ve loved to have had a huge grand opening, but at least they’re opening.”

Leone and county leaders alike view the development as a critical one as Ballston continues to become an ever-more-urban section of Arlington — as she puts it, it will help transform Wilson Blvd into a “truly a retail street” and the neighborhood as a whole into “an 18-hour community.”

Yet the massive amount of construction required for the project, running in tandem with a host of other major Ballston developments, has snarled traffic in the area and forced visitors to the businesses that have remained open in the mall to wind through a confusing maze of scaffolding and tarps. Accordingly, Leone is quite anxious to see things start to wrap up on the site.

“There will be a critical mass of things starting to open in the fall, and then by the spring, end of the second quarter, it’s going to be up and rolling,” Leone said.

By the Oct. 25 opening, Fredrick expects that the mall’s “public areas will be fully open and accessible to the public, including vertical transportation elements like the escalators and elevators.” Leone says that will include clear ground-floor entrances along both Wilson and N. Glebe Road, as well as some big improvements to the mall’s parking garage.

“The elevator banks are going to match up with the floors in Ballston Quarter, instead of having to go up and down the stairs, and there will be more escalators,” Leone said. “It’s going to be more open, so you can actually see where you’re going and where the parking garage is. The connectivity is going to be much better. It couldn’t have gotten much worse, right?”

She added that sidewalks along Wilson will also be wider for people walking to the mall by the time it opens, which will help the development accommodate outdoor seating for a variety of its restaurants. The County Board is set to give the go-ahead for the new patios to open next week, when it could grant permits to establishments including Compass Coffee, South Block, Ted’s Bulletin, True Food Kitchen, Union Kitchen and Bartaco.

Leone also noted that the CVS pharmacy, which has remained open during the construction, will be accessible from both the Glebe and Wilson sides of the mall. And for fast food fans, she fully expects that the reopened Chick-fil-A will start serving customers by the time development opens.

Inside the mall itself, Leone hopes that the “wayfinding is going to be very, very clear” to help shoppers navigate the new space. Fredrick says construction will be ongoing even after the development opens, but she expects it will be “limited to the interior of tenants’ space and will not interfere with overall public access.”

Crucially, Leone says the new “plaza” at the center of the development should be open by the time fall rolls around, and she hopes to start working with Forest City to schedule activities and events in the space through the winter and spring.

One feature the area will be missing, however, is are the “large media screens” the developer originally proposed for the plaza. Attorney Evan Pritchard says the developer had hoped installing two LED screens there would “be an interactive and fun element to help activate the plaza,” but has since determined that they might not be allowed under county zoning rules.

Forest City is asking the Board to drop its request for the screens at its meeting Saturday (Sept. 22), though Pritchard expects to pursue a change to the county’s zoning ordinance to allow them in the future.

“We hope to have Board support on that,” he said.

With or without the screens, Leone hopes the plaza will be a natural “entrance into the market area,” a 25,000-square-foot food court home to 18 restaurants. She expects that will open by November, as will Punch Bowl Social, a bar offering a bevy of games and entertainment options.

As for the rest of the offerings at Ballston Quarter, Leone hopes to see everything open by spring 2019. But half the battle will be the mall finalizing tenants for its remaining open space — Fredrick said three quarters of the development is already leased, with “additional deals in the works.”

“It’s just a matter of getting everyone into their spaces,” Leone said.

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Arlington Hopes to Hire Six Workers to Manage Medicaid Expansion Changes

Arlington officials expect as many as 3,000 more people will be able to earn health insurance through the Medicaid expansion passed by state lawmakers this year — and now the county needs new staffers to sort through the paperwork.

The County Board could soon accept just over $277,000 in state funds to hire six new workers to process Medicaid eligibility applications, anticipating that Arlington will see up to 7,000 requests for coverage through the program when changes officially take effect next year.

The General Assembly approved the expansion this spring, after Democrats’ sweeping gains in the legislature set the stage for a compromise on an issue that had long roiled state politics. Now, Arlington and other localities around the state are preparing for an influx of applications from low-income and disabled workers looking to earn healthcare coverage under the program for the first time.

Starting Jan. 1, 2019, Medicaid benefits will be available for childless, able-bodied adults for the first time, so long as they earn no more than $16,754 a year. The income cap will be raised to the same level for adults with disabilities, up from $9,700 a year, while income limits will also be bumped up for families with anywhere from three to eight children.

Under those new standards, county officials project at least 2,904 additional people in Arlington will be eligible for the program, and staff fully expects that evaluating the incoming flow of applications will overwhelm county workers.

While income is one measure Medicaid officials will examine in determining if someone is eligible for benefits, the program will also require many recipients to hold down a job — Republicans insisted on including the work requirements as a condition for approving the plan, though it will likely entail complex reporting requirements.

Accordingly, hiring six new staffers would help the county better distribute work among its employees and “contribute to reducing the error rate and processing time for application and recertification processing,” staff wrote in a report prepared for the Board.

In all, the county expects to spend about $527,000 annually to afford those staffers moving forward, with the state covering just over half that amount. Staff are hoping to pay for the remaining $249,000 or so with its own money, then evaluate in future budget years if the county needs to maintain those positions.

The Board is set to sign off on the new hires at its meeting Saturday (Sept. 22).

Photo via Arlington County

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